7 Keys to Running a Professional Film Set

Thomas Edison once said, "I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun."

This is the way I feel about film production. It takes an incredible amount of time, work, commitment, and perseverance, even for a short film (I've already worked about 18 months on my current short film Big and Tall). Despite that, I take great joy in the process. And I want those who work with me to have that same kind of joy. That's why I'm a firm believer in having fun while on set. Steve Jobs once said, "The only way to do great work is to love what you do." After all, if you can't enjoy yourself while working on a film, why do it in the first place?

However, I also believe in maintaining a professional set, especially on a low/no budget short. Why? Because most of the time the cast and crew are working for free. A set that runs smoothly and efficiently shows that the director respects everyone's time. People will be less likely to work for a director whose sets are chaotic and disorganized; sets where everyone is sitting around and no one is really sure of what's going on.

So, if you are currently working on a low/no budget short film, here are a few tips on how to run a professional set:

  1. Establish clear roles for your crew. Give everyone a specific job on set and make sure they understand what you need them to do. Do your best to avoid situations in which crew members have to wear several different hats. Not only will this slow down your shooting day, but it also means that details are likely to be overlooked and that your crew will be completely burned out by the end.
  2. Let everyone know what's expected of them. Take the time at some point during pre-production to let your entire cast and crew know what your approach is to directing. Let them know what you expect them to do while on set. Every director is different and your cast and crew will appreciate you taking the time to make everything clear for them.
  3. Create and distribute a production schedule and shot list. You don't have to draw storyboards (although they are extremely helpful), but you do need to write out a shot list for every camera set up you need during your shooting day. Then, send this list out to the cast and crew (especially your 1st AD, cinematographer, and producer). Here's a resource to help you create and organize your shot list, if you need it. This will keep your cast and crew informed and will give them clear goals for the day.
  4. Write up call sheets for every day of the shoot. Your production schedule will give everyone a general overview of the entire shoot, but daily call sheets provide more detailed information about the day ahead - weather, specific call times, location addresses, etc.
  5. Maintain constant communication. Set up a secret Facebook group for your cast and crew. Or use a team communication tool like Slack. Throughout pre-production and production, post scripts, shot lists, announcements, photos from your location scout... everything. The more you keep your cast and crew informed, the more excited they'll be for your project and the more invested they'll feel. Also set up regular face-to-face meetings where you can bounce ideas around, receive feedback, and address concerns and questions.
  6. Treat everyone as a valuable asset to the production. Take the time to compliment everyone for their time and effort. Thank them for their dedication. Tell them how important they are to the overall success of the film.
  7. Feed them. I saved the most important one for last. Never, ever let your cast and crew go hungry.

What other tips do you have for running a professional film set. Leave them in the Comments section below.